Oh, hell, Martha, go ahead and burn yourself if you want to.

It's a famous story in Hunt family lore. 

Scene: The dining room of Ben Hunt (my grandfather) in Scottsboro, Alabama, circa 1939. Miz Hunt (my great-grandmother) actually rules the roost, of course, with Grace Hunt (my grandmother) learning the art and science of imperious Southern control from the wings. My aunt Martha (8 years old) is the definition of hell-on-wheels, and my father, Bud (5 years old), is Le Petit Prince.

Yes, this is the Scottsboro of Scottsboro Boys infamy, where 9 African-American teenagers were falsely accused and convicted of raping two white women in 1931. I never knew this was a thing until I went to college. See "Letter From a Birmingham Museum" for more thoughts on that thread.

I wasn't around for the Miz Hunt dinners, of course, but I doubt much changed from 1939 to 1979 and the dinners I remember. Multiple courses. Most of the day to prepare. Always in the big dining room with the leaves in the table and the tall chairs that had to be placed back up against the wall during the day. My grandmother, and I'm sure my great-grandmother before that, smoking her cigarettes and drinking a highball while cooking in that kitchen, standing in the dining room doorway while we ate, never sitting down herself until the very end of dinner.

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  1. Maybe I’m too close to ET (been reading it since day one’s “Epsilon Theory Manifesto” well worth the many re-reads I’ve given it / encourage you to start with it or go back to it if you haven’t already), but this note is better than any high school or college graduation speech (“follow your passion, take chances, help others -” fine, good, blah, blah, zzzz…) I’ve ever heard.

    I am painfully practical (it was the only thing that counted to my Depression-Era parents - “follow your dreams” was considered stupidity in my house / “get a job” was THE GOAL, expecting to like your job or to feel passion for it was acting spoiled), but Ben’s first instruction is the most practical advice you could get. Yes, for the reason Ben gives, but also, the future is unknown; however, you’ll be meaningfully better able to face it equipped with strong intellectual skills.

    Point two is spot on - life is easy when you have the correct tickets. You can do it another way, but it’s getting harder to do so each year. “Train your voice” is one of the key ways you leverage your intellectual capital into advancing your life and career. If you can’t articulate your thoughts in a way that sings to you and others, then much of your potential will be left fallow.

    And, as always, you have to try and fail at things, but you don’t want to try and fail at life; you want to try and fail at things along the path (the process) to a successful life. If I’m ever asked to give a graduation speech (stop laughing), I’m stealing heavily from this piece.

  2. Avatar for robh robh says:

    One of my favorite blogs, Wait But Why, did a long piece earlier this year about picking a career path in a world with many new unconventional options (something that most of the old geezers on this site can’t relate to) — https://waitbutwhy.com/2018/04/picking-career.html

    As an aside, I can’t recommend that site enough. Their long piece on AI is one of the scariest things you will ever read and their multi-part series on Elon Musk is fascinating.

  3. I am the father of four teenage children, all chugging through the maturing process somewhere between 14 and 19 and I have been asking myself what sort of pithy advice, which potted and pickled version of my experience I can pass on to them to make their process somewhat less - how should I put it - erratic, than my own? So I studied this response with its tripartite cluster of advice and am left wondering if poor M is any the wiser for the intervention.

    Ben, nothing you write is ever trite or superficial and all of these three points are good (I would quibble with point 2., but it is a safe option along the lines of “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”). But is M helped? I think not - M will now start a blog or a vlog and practice finding his voice. Good idea. M will also ruminate on what it means to build intellectual capital, which is also spot on advice, but far too vague to be of any practical use. In my day (early 1980s) we were encouraged to read anything we desired at University in order to broaden our knowledge so that when we ended up in investment banking or brokerage in the City, we would have some intellectual depth to our conversation. The assumption was we would know nothing about the actual job until we were on or in it and what was being sought in candidates was the proven ability to learn and a measure of intellectual curiosity. It feels quaint now, but it is still the advice I give my children.

    Here is my ha’pennyworth and it is the advice I have given my children. In a world of immeasurable options, we risk going mad from Stendahl syndrome, overwhelmed by the choices available, unless you are blessed with clarity of purpose and like my 15-year-old daughter, know from the age of three that you want to be a vet. So if you are not preternaturally focused, then my advice has been a three-stage thinking exercise, which, having tested it on numerous teenagers to mid-20s students, seems to work particularly well, especially if captured on a sheet of paper in a morphological chart. : 1) Identify which particular injustice in the world makes your blood boil most. Write down a list of your top three and pick one. 2) Reflect on and write down the different professions through which you might contribute to righting that wrong. Then pick one the that appeals most 3) Identify ten organisations or persons already engaged in fighting the good fight and go work for one of them.

    I am not sure how many words my premium membership entitles me too in a comment, and I suspect I may have used up this year’s contingent, but in my defence, the most important contribution we can make is to offer our best advice to the next generations earnestly seeking guidance in their quest to focus their talents and energies. M and & co deserve all the help they can get.

  4. Fantastic advice and just forwarded it to a young friend. Invest in yourself, build skills, build a network, and fail quickly.

  5. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Yes, I’m a Wait But Why fan from way back.

  6. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    You have an unlimited number of words here, Steven, particularly when they are as well chosen as these! Thank you for this contribution to the pack.

  7. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Right on.

  8. Avatar for ET82 ET82 says:

    I salute you, Sir! Sometimes just giving young people a solid answer is good enough. Trust in their ability to decipher whether it’s genuine or utter bollocks. It is a terrible crime that the world we live in is being so thoroughly marketed and fearfully repressed to the point where young people can scarcely grow at all. Of course there is no reliable magic formula that can breakthrough the deceits and conformity, but anybody encouraging the up and coming generations to confront what makes “your blood boil most” is a bonafide champion for the future.

  9. Avatar for jim.r jim.r says:

    Thanks for the recommendation Rob!

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